By Bob Nagy - Updated Date: 10/19/2011
Every now and again, an automobile company will create something never before seen, taking the risk that their invention will go down in history as either a modern classic or an utter disaster. It takes guts to build a car like the 2012 Nissan Juke, a radical little crossover that is part CUV, part sports car and part ultramodern rolling art. Actually, creating a radical-looking car isn't all that hard. But, making one that is also highly functional, fast and affordable, well that's a really neat trick. The 5-door Nissan Juke has all the attributes of small wagon, with a big rear hatch, folding rear seats and level cargo floor. But, the 2012 Nissan Juke also has a turbocharged engine with variable throttle settings and an enthusiast-oriented sport suspension that allows it to behave far more radically than a Honda CR-V or Hyundai Tucson. Filled with cool visual design elements, the Juke definitely has a youthful audience as its target market, but as Nissan has learned from the Juke's unexpectedly brisk sales, people of all ages who appreciate clever design are drawn to this car. With prices ranging from around $20,000 to $27,000 fully loaded, the 2012 Nissan Juke fits easily into most budgets, which makes it even easier to fit one into most driveways.
If you're looking for a vehicle that performs like a racy little coupe, can tackle snow and dirt trails when asked and starts around $20K, the 2012 Nissan Juke CUV has you covered. The Juke's off-beat good looks and long list of electronic audio and communications options should help seal the deal.
Beyond its unconventional styling, the 2012 Nissan Juke crossover may not hold much appeal to those who require a big back seat and copious cargo space. If you want something stylish, fuel efficient and roomy, the Kia Sportage makes an excellent alternative, as does the MINI Cooper Countryman.
Fresh from its debut last year, Nissan has made no changes to the 2012 Juke crossover.Driving It Driving Impressions
Drawing its highly regarded B-platform that spawned the Cube Wagon and LEAF electric vehicle, Nissan once again makes the most of its engineering ingenuity by delivering a compact crossover that performs like a low-slung pocket rocket. The 2012 Nissan Juke crossover's taut suspension is adept in minimizing body roll and lean, with only a minimal trade-off in the areas of ride comfort. The electric assist power steering feels pretty spot on, although we'd still prefer a hydraulic setup in a car like this. The Juke's big standard wheels and tires combined with its wide front and rear track also aid in stability, but those same tires do create a fair bit of road noise, which is too easily transmitted into the Juke's cabin area. When equipped with Nissan's "intelligent" all-wheel-drive package, the Juke gains a torque-vectoring setup and a CVT transmission usually found only in much more expensive vehicles. The system is able to route power front to rear as well as side to side at the rear axle. AWD Jukes also ditch the base car's torsion beam rear axle in favor of more desirable independent rear suspension. The Nissan Juke's raised driving position, oversized side mirrors and good driver sightlines make it easy to maneuver in all but the tightest confines, while the impressive list of standard safety and stability-control programs add an extra piece of mind.
I-CON (Advanced-Integrated Control) system interface
Standard on the Juke SV and SL, Nissan's slick I-CON interface/display toggles between "Climate" and "D-mode," each with its own specific graphics. In the former, I-CON commands all heat/air functions while the latter features Normal/Sport/Eco settings that appropriately revise the electronic mapping for throttle response, transmission shifts and steering feel.
Intelligent AWD with Torque Vectoring
Available on all three Juke trim levels, Nissan's Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system can create up to a 50/50 front/rear power split and also distribute torque from side to side on the rear axle to improve handling and reduce understeer when cornering.
If you're into cutting-edge interior styling, the 2012 Nissan Juke crossover is the poster child for the compact CUV segment. From its molded plastic center console that mimics a motorcycle's fuel tank to the multifunction ventilation controls that, with a push of a button, change to become the Sport/Normal/Eco mode throttle controls, the Juke's interior is a visual smorgasbord. Soft-touch materials are present where needed, although the lack of a center armrest is a serious oversight. The thick-rimmed 3-spoke steering wheel not only feels great in your hands, it is packed with redundant controls for the audio, cruise and Bluetooth system. The Juke's firm front bucket seats offer good lower back and thigh support, and look particularly inviting when covered in leather. And, while rear-seat accommodations are a bit snug, two adults can fit back there if the front seats are not fully retracted. Don't look for much in the way of cargo space because with only 10.5 cubic feet, there isn't much. Of course, if the ride includes just you and one other person, the 60/40 split-folding rear seats can be laid flat to create 35 cubic feet of space, more than enough to fit all of your toys. Our one gripe with the Juke's layout pertains to the USB port at the front of the center console. When connected, an iPod or similar device sits on a shallow-edge shelf where it can easily slide off during a sharp turn and is clearly visible to prying eyes. The glove box would be a more suitable spot.
The 2012 Nissan Juke crossover is a vehicle you either instantly fall in love with or run screaming from as fast as you can. From its big-eyed bumper-mounted headlights to the elongate clear plastic turn-signal/parking lights that run the length of the fender tops, the Juke appears otherworldly. Move to the side, and a roofline that squats low as it moves rearward is accented by color-keyed integrated rear door handles giving the 5-door Juke a coupe-like appearance. If there is one unoriginal portion to the 2012 Juke, it's the rear tail lenses that bear more than a passing resemblance to the taillights of the Volvo XC60 and Ford Focus. A single-piece hatch with electronic release opens to reveal the Juke's rather tiny cargo hold. In a nod to fans of large wheels, Nissan equips all three trims (S, SL, and SV) with 17-inch alloy wheels and V-rated all-season tires.
Every 2012 Nissan Juke crossover variant comes packed with desirable features. Beyond first-rate powertrain/suspension/vehicle dynamics elements shared with its SV/SL kin, even the base "S-spec" nets Nissan's Xtronic CVT automatic transmission plus power windows/lock/mirrors, air conditioning, 6-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, cruise control, keyless remote entry, a multifunction steering wheel, trip computer, vehicle security/immobilizer systems and front/front-side/side-curtain airbags. The SV adds premium upholstery cloth, a power moonroof, automatic climate control, the I-CON multifunction controller, subscription-based XM Satellite Radio, a USB port and privacy glass while SL trim includes the Navigation Package, leather upholstery, heated front seats, the RearView Monitor system, foglights, and auto on/off headlights.
Nissan's decision to develop three definitive variations on the Juke theme keeps the formal extras list on each to a minimum. The sole choice for 2012 Juke S crossover buyers consists of front- or all-wheel drive. At SV level, that list expands to include swapping its standard 6-speed manual transmission for the CVT and adding the Navigation Package that brings an SD-card based navi system with 5.0-inch color LCD screen, a speaker upgrade with Rockford Fosgate subwoofers and USB connectivity. The fully-loaded SL limits its configuration alternatives to front/AWD and/or 6MT/CVT transmissions.
All versions of the 2012 Nissan Juke CUV are fitted with the automaker's new 1.6-liter "DIG" (Direct Injection Gasoline) inline 4-cylinder that boasts the holy trinity of modern engine tech – direct fuel injection, turbocharging/intercooling and variable camshaft timing – here on both the intake and exhaust side – to deliver an impressive mix of performance and economy. Generating a stout 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque from 2,000-5,200 revs, it matches well with the CVT automatic (which includes S-mode that serves up six "virtual" gears) and the 6-speed manual gearbox, and can comfortably handle the added weight of the all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. A manual-equipped front-drive Juke can sprint to 60 mph in around seven seconds, while the CVT and AWD each add about a half tick to that baseline figure.
1.6-liter turbocharged/intercooled in-line 4
188 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm
177 lb-ft of torque @ 2,000-5,200 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 24/31 mpg (FWD, manual), 27/32 mpg (FWD, CVT), 25/30 mpg (AWD, CVT)
The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) on the 2012 Nissan Juke crossover starts around $21,000 for an entry-level "S" model with the SV beginning closer to $22,000 and the top-line Juke SL opening right around $24,000. A CVT in the SV/SL adds another $500, the SV-only Navigation Package commands $800 and all-wheel drive on any trim level bumps the bottom line by $1,500. To make your best deal, be sure to check the Fair Purchase Price at kbb.com that shows the typical transaction price paid for the Juke in your area. While more conventional, but less-powerful and in many cases less well-equipped rivals like the Kia Soul Sport, Scion xB, Suzuki SX4 Sportback, Toyota Matrix XRS Sport and Mazda3 – or even Nissan's own Cube – can be had for less, only the pricier Mazdaspeed3 comes close to rivaling the performance of any Juke variant. The Juke's distinctive exterior styling remains a bit of a long-term wild card here, but historically Nissan vehicles have done a reasonable job of holding their comparative value over time. We suspect the SV will fare best in that particular arena.